By Ben W. Curtis
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Tracy City
Recently, I watched a video in which people were asked important questions about American history. These videos have likely been edited (we hope) to include only the most outrageous answers. When asked about World War II, one individual suggested it was fought in 1970! The warning is clear: When a people forget their history, they are in danger of losing their unique identity. To put it another way: We are what we remember.
Asaph writes Psalm 78 so that the next generation would not forget (Psalm 78:1-8). He gives examples from two time periods in which God’s people failed to remember. First, despite God’s mighty deliverance of Israel from Egypt, including the plagues and the miraculous parting of the Red Sea, they forgot these things and tested God (vv. 12-31, 40-55). Second, Ephraim turned back in the day of battle and forgot God (vv. 9-11). The background to this event, and the one described in verses 56-64, is most likely I Samuel 4. The sins of Israel and Eli’s household prompted God to reject the northern tribes and select David as His king and Zion as the place where He would build His temple.
The main point is found in verses 32-39: God was merciful in spite of Israel’s sin! God’s powerful Word and mighty acts should’ve motivated Israel to trust Him, but it didn’t. He repeatedly did the impossible for them, but “they refused to walk according to his law” and “forgot his works” (vv. 10-11). So, God used brevity of life and the reality of death to cause them to seek Him and to remember. But notice how superficial their spiritual awakening was: “They flattered him … they lied to him.” It’s similar to what we read in verse 8 which says that they were a generation “whose heart was not steadfast” and “whose spirit was not faithful to God.” They deserved judgment for their forgetfulness, but in His mercy, He “remembered that they were but flesh.” In spite of the ebb and flow of their passion for His glory, God “atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them.”
The old covenant means of atonement, the sacrificial system, has now been fulfilled in a new and better covenant through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the gospel, God has withheld judgment by forgiving our sins and removing our guilt. He has replaced our unresponsive hearts with hearts that are moldable to His Word, and He has given His Spirit to enable us to obey Him (Ezekiel 36:26-27). God has placed each of us into a church where the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper serve to remind us of His mighty work in our lives. We know these things, but we’re prone to forget. So as you gather with believers in your local church this week, look for ways to remind others of who God is and what He has done, especially the next generation. After all, we are what we remember.